Rhetoric of ‘American way’ rests in lies
Society blind to benefits of contributions by ‘illegals’
By Roxane Marquez
Daily Bruin Columnist/Editor in chief
About three years ago, my mother taught me to needlepoint.
Tradition, she told me. Women in her family have always been good
at embroidery, she explained, since the days of the Dons. My late
Uncle Leo once said that when he was little, "All Valdina ever did
When I visit my parents, my mother and I always needlepoint for
some time. At first I thought it was lame, stuffy, Victorian.
But it’s actually quite peaceful. Since Daddy and my little
brother Eric run screaming whenever they see a needle and thread,
it gives us a chance to talk uninterrupted.
And one winter weekend two years ago, my mother had some news to
"Your Uncle Mike got a job," my mother said as she stitched a
Christmas stocking for Eric.
"’Bout time," I replied.
"Mi’ja, you’re really too cruel to your uncle."
"We’ve never gotten along; you know that," I giggled.
"And the man can’t do anything right," I told her.
"Well, you and your father agree on something for once."
"And I don’t know why Jeannie married him," I continued. "Mike
is arrogant like I’ve never seen, a total know-it-all."
"Sounds like someone I know."
I glanced at her. "Hmm." Then I continued stitching.
"Anyway," she chimed, "It’s nice to know that they won’t have to
worry about paying bills for the time being."
"That’s true," I sighed. "And maybe those two can pay you and
Daddy back someday, Â¿verdad?"
"Yes," she answered, her eyebrows raised, "And perhaps
We paused. "So – where’s he working?"
"Well, California technically is still in a recession right now,
and it’s still very difficult to find jobs."
"I know that, Mom, but you just told me he found one."
"Yes, Roxy, but I know you’re not going to be happy about
I frowned. "Where’s he working, Mama?" I asked tersely.
"The border, hon." She looked up gently at me. "He’s working
I was dumfounded – for a moment. Then, "Jesus Christ!"
"Stop swearing, Roxane. Stop it right now."
Slamming the frame and canvas on the couch, I trounced into the
kitchen, fuming and still cursing. Mom followed me.
"Calm down, and for goodness’ sake, be quiet," she commanded me.
"Your father’s going to wake up and wonder what’s wrong."
I turned and faced her. "What’s wrong? Do you know what they do
to people at the border?" I asked, laughing helplessly.
"Roxane, they’ve lost the car, and they’re about to lose that
little house – don’t you understand?"
My hand clutched the edge of the white counter. "I can’t believe
you’re saying this."
"This is hard for me, too, mi’ja. But they needed someone who
spoke Spanish, and Mike … "
"All the more reason to turn the sons-of-bitches down."
"Don’t talk that way in this house."
I swallowed. "It is bad enough that Daddy’s a pig for the city,
Mom … "
"That’s not fair."
"And now a federal pig in the family? I can barely handle this
family being called pochos, but, mama – Â¿vendidos?
"Don’t you be calling me a sellout, little girl," she retorted
hotly. "You have no idea what you are saying to me."
"If you accept this – do you accept this?" I asked.
Her head tilted to the side. "Mike and Jeannie, their family
needs to eat."
"Yeah, well so do the ‘illegals’," I replied as I walked out the
back door. "But I guess it’s us or them, Â¿no?" Then I closed
the door firmly, but lightly enough so that Daddy wouldn’t stomp to
the other side of the house and ask what the hell was going on.
I sat on the patio. Eric was playing with some imaginary friends
under the orange trees that three "illegals" had pruned some years
ago. I remembered how Dad had hired them from some random street
corner in downtown Los Angeles, and how delighted they were when he
said they could keep all the oranges they wanted.
* * *
Even now, I feel uneasy flippantly labeling people "illegal" or
"alien." Commodities are il/legal. Extraterrestrials are alien.
Human beings are not.
Insensitive semantics upset me, but what particularly irks me is
that Mexicanos are considered illegal in what really is their
homeland, too. Remember, the Southwest was violently stolen from
MÃ©xico, not purchased in some polite manner, in 1848.
Some would argue that, stolen or not, MÃ©xico lost the war;
this is U.S. soil and that is that, love it or leave it.
But I’ll bet that the same people who use this logic to justify
U.S. colonialism would have no problem turning the same argument
around if it suited their interests, be they financial or
For instance …
If Saddam Hussein occupies Kuwait (or bombs Israel, for that
matter), it’s "aggression." It’s "wrong." Then we send half the
U.S. Armed Forces to expel him, carpet bomb his country and have a
tickertape parade in New York when it’s all over.
If Communist Sandinistas take control of El Salvador, we evoke
"domino-theory" imagery on television screens and in newspaper
editorials, and then allocate money and weaponry to "freedom
fighters" struggling to preserve a "free market" that really just
allows us to exploit freely.
But if it’s the French occupying Southeast Asia or the English
carving Africa into bits and pieces … fine. In fact, let’s hurry
up and get our chunk, too (read: Guam, the Philippines, Puerto
Rico, Hawai’i, the other 49 states).
So given such history, the transparency and the hypocrisy of
"love-it-or-leave-it" rhetoric becomes obvious. Yes, I love this
land, but not under your terms – and I’ll be damned if I’ll leave
it because of them.
What terms are they? Among them:
* speaking, reading, enforcing English only.
* abandoning multiculturalist endeavors in education and civic
* withholding public education from undocumented immigrants.
* denying health care to undocumented immigrants.
* discouraging barrio/ghetto youth from expressing their
frustrations and describing their reality via song and art that
mainstream society considers "vulgar."
* supporting free-market economic philosophy without first
examining what its advocates purport and what they actually
Attempts by conservative Anglo Americans to chastise me into
supporting such policies are bad enough … but it’s particularly
unsettling when members of my own Chicano community join them. I’ve
heard it all: "Illegal aliens take away jobs that belong to us," or
"Illegal aliens don’t pay taxes, so how can they expect to benefit
from state services?"
We should know better than this.
Because they receive pitifully low wages for oftentimes menial
work, undocumented immigrants work at jobs that most Americans
wouldn’t think twice about refusing. And for this very reason, they
stimulate our economy more than anything else.
As for taxes … cashiers at the supermarket or department store
don’t discriminate between who is or is not a "legal" resident when
imposing a sales tax on items sold. And it tends to go unstated,
but employers of undocumented immigrants often acquire illegal
social security cards for their undocumented workers in order to
avoid scrutiny by authorities as to employee "authenticity."
Nevertheless, state and federal taxes are deducted from their
checks, and given that undocumented workers are truly undocumented,
they’re not going to see that money someday in the form of Social
Security benefits and tax returns. Instead, they’ll be castigated
for "not paying their fair share" in the first place.
The worst, though, is when I hear Chicanos state that, "Illegal
immigrants are in America; they should do things the American way."
It’s only been in the last 25 years, maybe, that mainstream
America has listened to any of our concerns even remotely
seriously. Prior to that, it was too busy trying to shame us into
hating our surnames, our skin color, our language, our values – in
short, our culture.
Only when we openly and vocally resisted total assimilation did
America allow us to have some input as to what the "American way"
might entail. Some would argue that we still don’t even have
I argue that it’s mere tokenism, and that when we settle for the
burnt edges of the American pie and devote our energy to keeping
immigrants out, we’re selling ourselves short … selling our
MÃ¡rquez is a fifth-year History/English (American Studies)
student and editor in chief of the Daily Bruin. Her column appears
on alternate Thursdays.Comments to [email protected]